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Rays again come up empty at plate in loss

TORONTO — Maybe it's just going to be this way the rest of the way.

As much as Rays manager Joe Maddon remains confident the offense is going to get hot, as much work as hitting coach Steve Henderson and the players do in the batting cages, as many trades options as executive vice president Andrew Friedman explores, things just might not change.

Like most of their games the past three weeks, the Rays didn't do much offensively Tuesday. They stayed in the game with strong pitching by starter James Shields and crisp defense. And they lost, 3-1 to the Blue Jays.

That's 12 losses in their past 18 overall, though they hung on to first place in the increasingly crowded AL East race, with the Red Sox and Yankees, who both lost, one and three games back, and the Blue Jays creeping to within 7½.

Maddon made a point — several times, actually, in less than four minutes of remarks — that he was encouraged by the effort and the intensity, coming two days after he blasted the Rays for their lack of hustle.

"I really liked the way we played tonight a lot," he said. "The way we ran, the way we played defense, little things we did and we're trying to do, I loved it.

"If we keep doing what we did tonight, even though it was a loss, I believe that's the kind of game that's going to get us into the playoffs. I loved it. Absolutely loved it."

He had his reasons, such as third baseman Evan Longoria and shortstop Jason Bartlett making dazzling diving plays, Shields battling into the eighth, Carl Crawford hustling to stretch a single into a double and trying a rare bunt, even B.J. Upton for an aggressive — though unsuccessful — attempt at a diving catch.

Elsewhere in the clubhouse, there was acknowledgement of the Rays' continued offensive struggles. In their past 18 games they've scored just 48 runs (an abysmal average of 2.67 per game) and are hitting .213 overall and a staggering .138 (19-for-138) with runners in scoring position.

"We hope that the offense comes around," Crawford said, "but who's to say that it will?"

Monday their struggles were magnified by a strong start by Toronto's A.J. Burnett, who struck out 10 and scattered six hits over seven innings. Still, the Rays (61-44) had their chances, leaving nine men on and going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. They had the bases loaded twice but got only one run (on a slow infield grounder) and nothing with first-and-third with one out in the seventh.

Shields was his usual self, despite cutting his warmup session short because he didn't feel sharp. He kept the Rays in the game as long as he could.

His only mistakes, though, were loud ones: a two-run homer by Matt Stairs (on "a great pitch") that soared over the centerfield fence in the fifth, and the second of two well-struck triples to his final batters in the eighth.

"I did what I needed to do," Shields said. "I felt I pitched really well tonight. I think if I pitch well like that the rest of the season, we are going to win games."

They all can hope.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Blue Jays 3

Rays 1

Rays again come up empty at plate in loss 07/28/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 30, 2008 2:38pm]
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